Best candidates for new judges are children of existing judges



Pravosudna akademija / HANZA MEDIA

Đuro Sessa (left) and Srđan Sessa (right)

Among top candidates for highly desired positions at the Zagreb Commercial Court are three children of judges and wife of a singer believed close to the ruling party.

After two days of interviewing many candidates who responded to the competition for four judges at the Zagreb Commercial Court, the National Judicial Council (DSV) determined on Friday that Srđan Sessa, son of Supreme Court head Đuro Sessa, is one of the top four candidates.

He and the remaining three top ranking candidates are a security check away from being appointed judges at the Commercial Court, with the Security and Intelligence Agency (SOA) to perform the check. The DSV did not release the list of candidates on its official website on Friday after the interviews, which it usually releases. The DSV secretariat explained on Friday that it will not release the final list until the security check is performed for the four top candidates, who are likely to be appointed to the Commercial Court. The secretariat also revealed that the top four candidates are court counselors who will enter the judiciary for the first time, in which case security checks must be made before adopting the final decision on appointment.

Through unofficial channels, we got the names of the four candidates, who got to the top of the list of candidates for Zagreb Commercial Court judges after adding up scores from final exams and interviews with the DSV. These are Đuro Sessa, court counselor at the civil department at the Zagreb County Court and son of Supreme Court president Đuro Sessa, Iva Buljan, counselor at the Zagreb Commercial Court and daughter of the recently retired High Commercial Court judge and former head of the Zagreb Commercial Court Vesna Buljan, Nelli Stipaničev, counselor at the Novi Zagreb Municipal Court and wife of famous singer Đani Stipaničev who likes to sing at Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) party gatherings (for instance at the last party meeting held in May 2018), and Jelena Antonić Šego, counselor at the Supreme Court. According to available information, only Jelena Antonić Šego does not have direct family ties with ranking judges or people connected with the HDZ. She is daughter of a judge, but her father who worked as municipal court judge in Kostajnica surely could not have helped her in this case because he died more than ten years ago and she already applied twice for judicial position without success.

Four seats

Competition for the four seats at the Zagreb Commercial Court was considerable. More than 60 candidates responded to DSV's competition that was launched on 13 June last year, with 62 remaining in the final round - some 15 competed for one seat on average. However, some candidates did not show up for interviews at the DSV on Thursday and Friday. We can only speculate on the reasons why they were discouraged, with one of the possible answers being that they could hear from judges and counselors that the four seats at the Zagreb Commercial Court were reserved for sons and daughters of ranking officials. High Misdemeanor Court judge Branka Žigante Živković warned the public about possible outcome of the competition for Zagreb Commercial Court judges. In December last year, she told JUTARNJI LIST that, as head of the fifteen-member High Commercial Court judicial council, she was under pressure from Đuro Sessa, her colleague at the High Commercial Court Tomislav Tomašić and the DSV to quickly evaluate the work of judge Ljiljana Pirić, who responded to the competition for Commercial Court judges. Until receiving evaluations of all candidates who responded to the competition, the DSV could not start interviewing the candidates or make its decision. Žigante Živković said for JUTARNJI LIST that she learned from the judicial milieu that Sessa is wants the current lineup of the DSV to decide on appointment of judges to the Zagreb Commercial Court, with Željko Šarić at the helm, whose term expires in early March.

Harsh reactions

After making the claim and releasing messages she received from Sessa and her colleague at the court, the judge came under harsh criticism from her colleague Tomislav Tomašić, DSV head Željko Šarić and, what is especially interesting, from a judge she did not mention in her statements, head of the Zagreb County Court Ivan Turudić.

Her claims were the reason for our investigation into the judicial career of Srđan Sessa. In our efforts, we encountered incredible resistance from institutions from which we asked for information, which is of public interest considering the position he could be appointed to.

We have determined that the 33-year-old, who has been working as counselor at the Zagreb County Court for the last two years, started studying law in Zagreb and got his diploma in Split after eight years. It is interesting to note that the Faculty of Law at the University of Zagreb refused to say when Sessa enrolled and when he moved to the University of Split. Secretary at the Faculty of Law at the University of Zagreb Stjepan Lice tried to convince us that this information is protected by the Personal Information Protection Act. At first, we did not manage to learn when Srđan Sessa moved to the University of Split or at which year of study. After days of waiting, we were informed that he got a diploma from the University in 2011. After insisting and explaining that their former student is now working as counselor at the County Court, is paid from State budget, is a candidate for the position of judge at the Commercial Court and that the public has the right to know at least the basic information on the course of his study, they replied that Srđan Sessa came to the Faculty of Law at the University of Split in his fourth year of study, in the academic year 2009-2010. Since Srđan Sessa was born in 1985, and assuming that he started studying law at 18, in 2003, and got his diploma in 2011, we can conclude that he studied for eight years. Unofficial sources from the Faculty of Law at the University of Zagreb revealed why he transferred to Split. He did it after many failed attempts to pass the civil procedural law exam in the fourth year of study.

Managed in Split

This is one of the most demanding exams. Since he could not pass the written part of the exam, he could not get to verbal examination. However, he managed to do it in Split, which is where he completed his study. Srđan Sessa decided to start his career as counselor in the civil segment, which operates under the rules of civil procedural law, with which he found most difficult during the course of his study. We have also learned that son of the Supreme Court head was not the only Faculty of Law at the University of Zagreb student who could not pass one of the more demanding exams and decided to get the diploma by transferring to the Faculty of Law at the University of Split.

After completing his studies in Split, Srđan Sessa worked as an intern in one of the renowned law firms in Zagreb, passed the bar exam in 2013, found employment as counselor at the Zagreb Municipal Court (which his father headed in the period between 1996 and 2004) and later as higher counselor in the civil department of the Zagreb County Court. His father Đuro Sessa worked as judge and head of the department in the period between 2004 and 2008, until he moved to the Supreme Court.

Seven years after getting his diploma, in June 2018, he responded to the competition for Zagreb Commercial Court judge. Higher court counselors, according to current regulations, can apply for position of judge if they pass the judicial exam at the Judicial Academy. Law graduates can take the exam if they have passed the bar exam and have at least four years of experience in the profession. The exam, as we have learned, is difficult and comprises a written and a verbal part, with questions prepared by first instance court judges. Đuro Sessa passed the written part of the exam in March and the verbal part in May, just two weeks before the DSV headed by Supreme Court Željko Šarić launched the competition for four Zagreb Commercial Court judges.

While Đuro Sessa was receiving the certificate for passing the exam from the hands of head of the Judicial Academy at the ceremony organized by the Academy for the group that passed the final exam in May last year, which allows them to apply for positions of judges, his father Đuro Sessa was sitting at the "presidential" table. According to protocol, members of the Management Council of the Judicial Academy are to sit at the table, and Đuro Sessa is head of the Management Council of the Academy as head of the judiciary in Croatia.

The Judicial Academy refused to present us with scores of candidates who passed the final exam in May last year, with Đuro Sessa among them. When we asked for the scores, on 12 December last year, the Academy promised to send it the next day.

GDPR as excuse

Since the response did not arrive as promised, we tried to learn why, to which we were informed that the Academy asked for Personal Data Protection Agency (AZOP)'s opinion. Some ten days later, the Judicial Academy sent us a short reply stating that, according to the AZOP, it cannot provide the requested list as it contains personal information. Croatian authorities have started using the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) frequently as an excuse for withholding information that is in public interest.

We called on Srđan Sessa through the Zagreb County Court to explain when he enrolled the Faculty of Law at the University of Zagreb, why he transferred to Split, when he found employment as counselor at the Zagreb Municipal Court, when he moved to the Zagreb County Court and how many points he got at the final exam at the Judicial Academy last year. Zagreb County Court spokesman Krešimir Devčić told us to ask head of the Court Ivan Turudić directly, but we have not received reply after waiting for a week.

In the meantime, the DSV interviewed the candidates for Zagreb Commercial Court judges, decided that Srđan Sessa is suitable for position of judge and placed him at the top of the score list. If he passes the security check, he will be appointed Zagreb Commercial Court judge.